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Falcons training camp preview: Cornerback

With Falcons training camp just around the corner, we take a closer look at Atlanta’s cornerbacks. One of the biggest wild cards on the roster, the team has an established starter in A.J. Terrell but little else in terms of proven NFL talent.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Mandatory Minicamp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the start of the Falcons’ 2021 training camp just around the corner, it’s time to take a closer look at each of the position groups on the roster. We’ll go through each one, noting the potential starters and the competition for depth roles. Now it’s time to discuss the Falcons defense, where start our examination of the secondary with cornerback. One of the biggest wild cards on the roster, the team has an established starter in A.J. Terrell but little else in terms of proven NFL talent.

OFFENSE: QB | RB | TE | WR | OT | C/G

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT | LB | CB

THE ESTABLISHED CB1: A.J. Terrell

A.J. Terrell

6’1, 195 | RAS: 8.74 | 2020 Stats: 74 total tackles, 61 solo, 3.0 TFL, 3 FF, 14.9% missed tackle rate | 7 PD, 1 INT, 67.0% completion rate allowed, 109.6 passer rating allowed | 60.8 overall PFF grade

The crown jewel of the Falcons’ 2020 draft class, A.J. Terrell acquitted himself well as a rookie. Essentially taking on the CB1 job from day one, Terrell had some ups and downs but showed the promise and high-end plays you’d expect from a highly-drafted rookie. He’s still got room to grow—consistency will be big for him in 2021—but Terrell was one of the best rookie CBs in the class and should continue to take the next step this season. Hopefully he can thrive in a more aggressive defensive scheme under Dean Pees.

OUTSIDE CB: Delrick Abrams, Darren Hall, Fabian Moreau, Chris Williamson

Delrick Abrams

6’2, 191 | RAS: 2.95 | 2020 Stats: 3 games played, 65.4 overall PFF grade

A UDFA addition who stuck with the team through the 2020 season, Delrick Abrams has one standout trait: size. At 6’2, 191 with over 33” arms, Abrams has height and lengths for days. That makes him an intriguing matchup corner for the bigger WRs of the NFL, as his long speed and explosiveness are both solid. However, he’s got issues moving laterally and will struggle with smaller, shiftier opponents. Abrams can play special teams and is the biggest CB on the roster, but he’s most likely competing for a practice squad spot.

Darren Hall

5’11, 188 | RAS: 8.03 | 2020 Stats (College): 37 total tackles, 30 solo, 2.0 TFL | 6 PD, 3 INT, 76.4 passer rating allowed | 77.8 overall PFF grade

One of the Falcons’ fourth-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, Darren Hall is an opportunistic, aggressive corner who could thrive in a zone-heavy defense. Hall is fairly average in terms of size, but he’s incredibly explosive and has above-average long speed. He’s a work in progress technically and plays a lot better with the ball in front of him, which is why some believe a switch to the slot may be in his future. Hall is a ballhawk who has tremendous instincts at the catch point, but he’ll need to improve his consistency to earn a starting job.

Fabian Moreau

6’0, 206 | RAS: 9.98 | 2020 Stats: 9 total tackles, 7 solo, 10.0% missed tackle rate | 3 PD, 2 INT, 54.5% completion rate allowed, 79.9 passer rating allowed | 65.7 overall PFF grade

A former third-round pick of Washington back in the 2017 NFL Draft, Fabian Moreau was one the Falcons first free agent signings this offseason. Moreau had a quiet rookie season, but started 10 games in 2018 and 7 in 2019. In 2020, his role was reduced even further and he was eventually allowed to walk. Moreau is an elite athlete with a rare size, speed, and explosiveness combination. He was played out of position in the slot, but fared a lot better when deployed on the outside. Moreau is the heavy favorite to start opposite Terrell on the outside, and I believe he could be one of the biggest surprises of the preseason.

Chris Williamson

5’11, 200 | RAS: N/A | 2020 Stats: N/A

Chris Williamson was a very late round pick of the Giants in the 2020 NFL Draft, and spent the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad. The Falcons scooped him up for their own practice squad in December, and signed him to a futures contract shortly after. Williamson has good size and experience on both the inside and outside. As one of the few practice squad holdovers from the previous regime, Williamson likely faces a difficult path to the roster.

SLOT CB: Tyler Hall, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, Avery Williams

Tyler Hall

5’8, 186 | RAS: 5.68 | 2020 Stats: 6 total tackles, 4 solo, 0% missed tackle rate | 29.0 overall PFF grade

Another 2020 UDFA carried over to the new regime, Tyler Hall was actually forced into on-field action during the season as an emergency reserve. He was targeted relentlessly when on the field, giving up 3 catches and a TD on just 6 snaps. Using that single game as a barometer of Hall’s skills is not fair to him, but he was definitely baptized by fire in his rookie season. Hall is undersized and probably needs to be in a slot-only role, but he’s explosive and has very good long speed.

Isaiah Oliver

6’0, 201 | RAS: 8.73u | 2020 Stats: 70 total tackles, 51 solo, 4.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF, 10.3% missed tackle rate | 6 PD, 70.0% completion rate allowed, 120.8 passer rating allowed | 58.8 overall PFF grade

The heavy favorite to start in the slot going into camp, Isaiah Oliver had a bit of a career resurgence in 2020 after a switch to the inside. It wasn’t exactly logical: Oliver’s size, length, and college experience all pointed to a better role on the outside, but he took to the slot very well. Oliver has impressive agility and explosiveness, along with the size and length to match up on bigger receivers and possibly even TEs. He’s yet to really live up to his second-round draft status, but nailing down the starting job as an average or better slot CB would certainly help.

Kendall Sheffield

6’0, 212 | RAS: 9.73 | 2020 Stats: 51 total tackles, 37 solo, 1 FF, 7.3% missed tackle rate | 3 PD, 72.9% completion rate allowed, 119.1 passer rating allowed | 40.3 overall PFF grade

Oh, Kendall Sheffield. We all had such high hopes for the former fourth-round pick, with his reported 4.3-speed, elite explosiveness and agility, and solid size. Sheffield has managed to find his way onto the field as a starter and rotational player, but has failed to generate the impact we’d hoped for. Entering his third season in the NFL, this training camp and preseason might be a make-or-break year for his future with the Falcons. Sheffield certainly has the talent to be an impact NFL player, but the consistency has simply not been there. Perhaps this is the year Sheffield puts it all together, but he’ll need a strong performance this summer to secure his roster spot. Sheffield is officially listed as “DB” on the roster, so he may be in line for a hybrid safety/corner role this season.

Avery Williams

5’8, 190 | RAS: 7.77 | 2020 Stats (College): 19 total tackles, 15 solo, 2.0 TFL, 1 FF | 1 PD | 15 punt returns for 229 yards (15.3 YPR), 2 TD, 19 kickoff returns for 533 yards (28.1 YPR), 2 TD

One of Atlanta’s sixth-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, Avery Williams was a bit of a curious selection. The team had already drafted a CB in Darren Hall, and signed Cordarrelle Patterson to be the kick returner. Williams seems destined to compete to be the primary punt returner—and perhaps future kick returner—after a decorated career as one of college football’s best and most consistent returners. He had an incredible 6 punt return TDs and 3 kickoff return TDs through his four year career, and had his best season yet in 2020. His easiest path to the roster lies in winning the return job, but he’s a solid slot corner in his own right—although he’s best as a deep reserve there at this point.